A Winter Tale: heartbreak and humour

Frances-Anne Solomon’s A Winter Tale looks at young black men coping with negative stereotyping in a Canadian city

Frances-Anne Solomon. Photograph courtesy Frances-Anne Solomon

If Frances-Anne Solomon looked a little haggard when we met, it was entirely understandable. Just a few days earlier, her film A Winter Tale (not to be confused with Shakespeare’s comedy) had been screened at the ReelWorld Film Festival in Toronto—and what’s more, had walked away with the award for Outstanding Canadian Feature. It was the high point of a long hard haul for Solomon, and the journey isn’t over yet.

“We finished it (the film) literally half an hour before the ReelWorld screening,” she recalls. “The film lab rushed it over in a taxi. We screened a test print, so there are still changes to be made.” And after that, of course, the interminable grind of marketing and distribution.

Some might call A Winter Tale Solomon’s obsession—she has worked on it intermittently for four years. It is a story of young black men struggling to cope with life and negative stereotyping in a big Canadian city: lots of heartbreak and a soupçon of humour. The topic may seem a strange choice for a middle-class Trinidadian woman with a theatre degree from the University of Toronto and years of BBC television experience under her belt. But Solomon, on returning from England to Toronto in 1999, was struck by the increase of black violence in the city, and by the fact that “it was portraying black men (as a whole) very negatively.”

Through her production company Leda Serene Films, she set out to explore “the inner lives of black men.” The rest is history. A Winter Tale was chosen to open the ReelWorld festival—“a very high honour”—and the response was positive.

“People seemed to like it,” Solomon says modestly. “They said it was very realistic, what Toronto needs.” Other descriptives included “moving” and “compelling”.

The film, which was funded by CHUM TV and a Telefilm Canada grant, will likely hit the local screens later this year, and Solomon will be seeking further exposure through other festivals and international distribution.

Although it will undoubtedly raise her professional profile, A Winter Tale is by no means the only iron in Solomon’s creative fire. In 2003 she produced a television comedy series—“Canada’s first multicultural sitcom”—called Lord Have Mercy. (“I wanted to call it Lord-a-Mercy, but the Canadians made me change it,” she recalls.) It ran for a season, was well received, and can still be found on Caribbean stations.

Wedded to the goal of promoting Caribbean culture, Solomon is involved in a constant maelstrom of projects. Her other production company, Caribbean Tales, “has done very well” creating educational products for Canadian and Caribbean school systems, notably a series called Literature Alive, which features “creative documentaries” on the lives and works of Caribbean authors. A series of audio books is also in the works and a website called Literature Alive Online offers background support to both projects.

Life as an independent media producer isn’t easy. Funding, Solomon says, is always a problem. Grants have to be applied for on a project-to-project basis. “We make do on very little money.”

Still, she would never consider any other way of making a living. “This is what I do,” she shrugs. “It’s what I was trained to do. I haven’t ever done anything else. I wouldn’t know where to start.”